WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee decisively approved a bill yesterday that would establish a seven-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns, opening the way for the full House to act on the measure in about two weeks.
Supporters of the measure, which received an unexpected boost when former President Ronald Reagan endorsed it late last month, hailed the 23-11 vote and said it would aid thebill's chances on the House floor.
Six Republicans joined 17 Democrats in approving the measure. Representative Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he expected the full House vote to be "neck and neck," with the margin depending on the decisions of five to 10 lawmakers.
If the House approves the bill, it will go to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. If it passes the Senate, it will then go to President Bush, who has opposed it in the past but has recently indicated a willingness to compromise.
The last time the bill reached the House floor, in 1988, it was defeated, 228-182, after opponents managed to kill language in an omnibus drug bill that called for a waiting period to purchase handguns.
Called the "Brady bill" in honor of James S. Brady, the presidential press secretary who was seriously wounded in the 1981 shooting that also injured Mr. Reagan, the measure is at the center of the long-running debate between the National Rifle Association and advocates of gun control.
Representative Edward F. Feighan, D-Ohio, who sponsored the bill, called the vote "a significant defeat for the NRA."
But an NRA spokesman said that the organization would seek to have its supporters reintroduce a proposal, sponsored by Representative Harley O. Staggers Jr., D-W.Va., that would require gun dealers to run a computer check on prospective buyers at point of sale.
The only vote that counts is the vote the House will take in the next three weeks or so," said Bill McIntyre, the association spokesman. "We know that every day we have the opportunity to educate congressmen."
Those who opposed the seven-day waiting period said it was impractical and would deprive citizens of their right to bear arms. They had supported the Staggers proposal, which failed by the same margin by which the Brady bill passed.